I was a bit taken aback when Lord Tebbit said at Blackpool last week that he didn't approve of "sodomite marriages". Not because of his views on the subject, which are much what we'd expect, but because of the quaintness of the phrase.

lt must have been years since I'd heard sodomite. It was still being used insultingly in Victorian literature, but had been abbreviated to sod by the 1930s, then rapidly lost its sting, joining bastard and bugger as a word that could signify affection or envy as much as dislike, used by people who'd never heard of Sodom or the Sodomites.

A sod is now just a person, just as a Pommy bastard can be just an Englishman, no offence. Why people like to call their friends names associated with sexual deviance is one of the mysteries of our language. Even wanker may soon be one of them, at least in certain circles: I seem to remember a delightful Punk Hamlet in which Hamlet, having stabbed Polonius in mistake for Claudius, cries: "Fuck me, I thought it was the other wanker."

The inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, the cities of the plain destroyed by act of God, are said in the Book of Genesis to have been unspeakably wicked, and I've never understood what the Gomorreans were up to, but Genesis says that when a couple of no doubt rather toothsome angels visited the patriarch Lot in Sodom, to warn him of the impending disaster, the townsmen besieged his house wanting sex with them (or, as the King James version coyly puts it, to "know" them). Orthodox opinion concluded that since God had said that Sodomites were bad, and Genesis that they were homosexual, it was clearly bad to be gay.

The correct term, incidentally, would be sodomitic marriages, as in morganatic, which would have been more stylish, but style is not his Lordship's strong point, and the ignorant fellow was only trying to be rude.

Nicholas Bagnall